The Flannan Lighthouse Keepers

I love lighthouses. For centuries, these towering structures marked dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals, and guided ships to safe harbors. With cheaper and more sophisticated navigational systems, few lighthouses are in use these days.

A lighthouse was the setting of my short story, The Keeper’s House which is included in the anthology Macabre Sanctuary. Two friends take a weekend trip to a historic lighthouse where they encounter a wooden-legged man who dresses in Victorian-era clothing. Is he a ghost? What is his interest in the keeper’s house?

There is a true event involving a lighthouse that’s more inexplicable than my fictional story.

The Flannan Isles Lighthouse stands on the highest point of Eileen Mòr in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of mainland Scotland. It’s best known for the mysterious disappearance of three of its keepers, James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and William MacArthur.

The Flannan Lighthouse. Photo by Marc Calhoun, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

On December 15, 1900, the steamer Archtor passed by the lighthouse on a voyage from Philadelphia to Leith, a port area near Edinburgh. The ship’s captain noted that the light was not operational. When they docked on December 18, Captain Holman passed the news along, which eventually reached the Northern Lighthouse Board.

The board dispatched a relief vessel, the Hesperus to investigate. Because of adverse weather, the ship didn’t reach the lighthouse until December 26. Captain Harvie sounded his horn and sent up a flare, hoping to alert the three men, but there was no response.

Off-duty keeper Joseph Moore disembarked the ship and climbed 160 steep steps to the lighthouse. When he reached the compound, he found the entrance gate and main door closed. Upon entering the living quarters, he discovered the clock on the kitchen wall had stopped. The table was set for a meal, and a chair had been toppled over.

Moore returned to the eastern landing to report his findings. Harvie sent the first mate and another sailor to help look for the men. They found a set of oilskins, indicating one keeper left the lighthouse without them. They found no sign of the men on the island.

Captain Harvie left the three men on the island to attend to the light. He sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board.

“A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall, and the Occasional have disappeared from the Island… The clocks were stopped, and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows, they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane.”

On Eilean Mòr, the men scoured every corner of the island for clues that might lead to the fate of the keepers. Everything on the east landing was intact, however, there was evidence of considerable storm damage on the west landing. A box was broken, and its contents were strewn about, iron railings were bent, and the iron railway by the path was wrenched out of its concrete. A rock weighing more than a ton had been displaced.

The Board’s superintendent, Robert Muirhead, arrived on the island on December 29 to investigate. After examining the left behind oilskin, he concluded it belonged to William MacArthur. He speculated Marshall and Ducat headed out into the storm to secure equipment. When they didn’t return, Muirhead surmised MacArthur went out to find them. He believed an enormous wave rushed up above the face of the rock, then swept them away.

However, speculation arose—including the idea of a giant sea monster swallowing the men or a huge seabird whisking them away.

More doubt surfaced when a supposed logbook surfaced in which Marshall wrote of the great storm but stated all the men survived. There is no evidence that this logbook ever existed.

Others theorized MacArthur, an ill-tempered man, started a fight and the three of them fell to their deaths. Others speculated he murdered the others, disposed of their bodies into the sea, then threw himself off the cliff. There was no evidence to prove either of these theories.

It’s unlikely anyone will discover the exact reason for the demise of Marshall, Ducat, and MacArthur. But by whatever means the men met their fate on that December night, the Flannan Isles Mystery is one of the most baffling in Scottish maritime history.

Overtoun Bridge #MysteryMonday

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season. Time to kick of 2022 with a new Mystery Monday post. This month, we’re going across the pond to the country of Scotland.

Overtoun House is a nineteenth-century country mansion built between 1860 and 1863 near West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Originally owned by James White, a retired lawyer and co-owner of a chemical company, the house sits on a hill overlooking the River Clyde.

After White’s death in 1884, his son John inherited the house and surrounding property. John wanted to expand the almost two-thousand-acre estate and acquired additional land. A waterfall on the Overtoun burn divided the eastern and western sides of the property. To solve this problem he hired landscape artist Henry Milner to design a bridge. The beautiful stone structure, comprised of three arches, was completed in 1885.

bridge ravine trees
Overtoun Bridge
Photo by Allan Ogg – Allan Ogg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

During the 1950s, local residents began referring to the bridge as the “Bridge of Death” or “Dog Suicide Bridge,” when it was reported that dogs began leaping from the bridge to the ravine below. The story gained more prominence between 2000 and 2010. Approximately fifty dogs have died from the fall with over six hundred surviving the leap.

In 2004, a man and his family were walking their Golden Retriever when it suddenly bolted and leaped from the bridge. The dog survived but, as you might expect, was traumatized by the incident. In 2005 at least five other dogs jumped over the course of six months.

Bridge, people, dogs, mansion
People walking their dogs on Overtoun Bridge
Photo By dave souza – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In 2014, Alice Trevorrow walked with her Springer Spaniel when she reported a strange incident. “I had parked up and as she is so obedient, I didn’t put her leash on… Me and my son walked toward Cassie, who was staring at something above the bridge… she definitely saw something that made her jump. There is something sinister going on. It was so out of character for her.”

A number of theories have been proposed as to the cause of this strange behavior. Canine psychologist David Sands believed a combination of the surrounding foliage, the extremely deep drop-off that appears to be rather even, and the scent of male mink urine lures the dogs to jump. Some have disputed this theory, stating there are no mink in the area.

In 2019, Bob and Melissa Hill, the current owners of Overtoun House, stated that in seventeen years of living there they had witnessed a number of dogs become agitated and fall from the bridge. He believes dogs catch the scent of mink, pine martens, or other animals. Hill, a former pastor, also said he thinks the grounds of the house holds some sort of spiritual quality.

Local teacher Paul Owens argues for the possibility of supernatural activity. He states dogs and other animals are more sensitive to such activity and believes darks spirits could be luring the dogs to their deaths.

Whatever the case, something is luring dogs off the Overtoun Bridge. It often happens in the same spot and is always on dry, sunny days. No matter the reason, dog owners crossing the bridge would be wise to exercise caution and keep their dogs on leashes.

Book Review: The Secrets of Thistle Cottage

I love a good bargain, especially when it comes to books. (If you haven’t signed up for BookBub, you really should. Not only can you follow your favorite authors, but you can get email notifications when books in your favorite genres are on sale.) Anyway…

I also enjoy a good dual-timeline story. The Secrets of Thistle Cottage delivered.


1661, North Berwick, Scotland
One stormy night, healer Honor Seton and her daughter Alice are summoned to save the town lord’s wife – but they’re too late. A vengeful crusade against the Seton women leads to whispers of witchcraft all over town. Honor hopes her connections can protect them from unproven rumours and dangerous accusations – but is the truth finally catching up with them?

Present-day, North Berwick, Scotland
After an explosive scandal lands her husband in prison, Tess Blyth flees Edinburgh to start afresh in Thistle Cottage. As she hides from the media’s unforgiving glare, Tess is intrigued by the shadowy stories of witchcraft surrounding the women who lived in the cottage centuries ago. But she quickly discovers modern-day witch hunts can be just as vicious: someone in town knows her secret – and they won’t let Tess forget it…

My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Set in Scotland, The Secrets of Thistle Cottage is a dual timeline story of two mothers and their daughters.

In 1661 widow Honor Seaton and her daughter Alice live in Thistle Cottage in the seaside town of North Berwick. Honor isn’t like most women of her day. She’s able to read, has a vast knowledge of plants and herbal remedies, and many of the townsfolk call on her when they have ailing family members.

Honor’s late husband left her with a position as a burgess, giving her a voice in matters involving the town—something only men of that era usually had. This doesn’t sit well with the laird, Gregor Kincaid. When Honor votes against his idea to deepen the harbor in order to bring trading ships to the area, it’s the beginning of her troubles.

Honor’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, was born “in the caul.” Some believe babies born this way have power, second sight, and the ability to raise storms on sunny days.

Gregor Kincaid’s wife, mother, and nephew become ill with a sudden illness and he and his brother Davey call on Honor to help. Accompanied by Alice, Honor isn’t able to save Gregor’s wife, but Davey’s son and their mother survive. Was it Honor’s tincture that cured them, or did Alice play a role when she touched Davey on the head willing him to live?

The modern-day story begins when Tess Blyth and her daughter Jemimah (Jem) move into Thistle Cottage, leaving Edinburg after Tess’s husband, Alistair, was convicted of the sexual assault of three women. Alistair was a television personality, so the case got a lot of publicity. Jem’s “friends” turned against her, and remarks made by Tess on Twitter were misinterpreted by many to believe she supported her husband.

Tess is a little paranoid, not wanting Jem to have any social media accounts, and she’s a little overprotective. Jem, more outgoing, befriends their elderly neighbor Eva and starts making friends at school. It’s not long before Jem and her best friend Cassie embark on a historical project that is supposed to tie the past to the present. They select the story of Honor and Alice Seaton.

When a major storm causes a tree to crash into Jem’s bedroom window, she finds a mysterious bottle wedged beneath the window seal. They soon learn it was a “witches bottle” something women used to hide as protection against those who proclaimed them as witches. Another bottle contains a note written by Alice.

Strange things begin to happen at the cottage. Someone paints the word “witch” on their fence, and later on the windows and walls. Two skeletons are placed near their door—one wearing one of Tess’s scarves which had gone missing, the other a tie belonging to Jem.

Tess, who has tried to keep their identity a secret, begins to suspect a young woman who works at The Haven, a women’s center where Tess does pro bono legal work. Or is it Cassie’s mother? Or Rory, the handyman who repaired the damage to the cottage?

Will Honor be burned at the stake having been accused of being a witch? Or will the townsfolk support her against a vindictive Gregor Kincaid and the witch hunter he brought to town? There are similarities between the lives of Honor and Alice with that of Tess and Jem. I found the dual timelines easy to follow. While I thought the ending for Tess and Gem was a little rushed, overall this was a satisfying read.